Cholesterol Levels May Spike During Winter Months
Tendency to eat more, exercise less when it's cold and snowy outside may explain trend
The snow, rain and cold of winter tend to dissuade people from getting out and exercising, he said. Even folks with a gym membership may not feel like leaving their home to go for a workout.
At the same time, people's cravings for fatty comfort foods increase, particularly around the holidays.
"People tend to not get out and exercise. They tend to eat things that are not healthy," Fletcher said. "They hibernate, so to speak."
People also get less sun exposure during the winter, which means that their concentrations of vitamin D will decrease, Joshi said. Studies have suggested that vitamin D appears to reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol levels.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, added that people should not shrug off the potential health effects of these seasonal fluctuations in their blood cholesterol.
Even though people's cholesterol will decrease during the summer, the high winter levels will contribute to hardening and blockage of the arteries, and increase their risk of heart disease and stroke, she said.
"There's so much research out there about the effects that a high-fat diet can have on the lining of the arteries, even in a one-meal setting," Steinbaum said. "It's very easy to make excuses in the winter, for all of us, but we have to fight it. We have to pay more attention to what we're eating and we need to get our exercise in."
And, added Dr. Evelina Grayver, director of the Coronary Care Unit at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., the cholesterol fluctuations also could point to other seasonal health effects.
"If we were to look at other cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and blood glucose, we likely would have the same findings as well," Grayver said.
Joshi said that even if unhealthy winter habits have nothing to do with the rise in cholesterol levels, people will still benefit if they maintain year-round the exercise and healthy eating that comes so easily in the summer.
"At least the healthier habits will protect you from the cholesterol changes that are happening in the winter," Joshi said.